Brian is the first to tell me about Ommwriter. Telling, in this instance, involved posting a link to my Facebook page. I happen to like, in our Internet age, how much we can learn about each other, even our siblings, via blogs, e-mail, and social networking sites. He guessed right that I would be curious about this.
Ommwriter is a new text-processor (dowloadable, not web-based) that creates a distraction-free space for writing and concentrating. The image of the space — a range of grays: snowed-over field, storm sky, tiny tree silhouettes, and six buttons — is what made me want to try it. To be bodily in the space was the dream; to type in it, the reality.
I tried it on Thursday, when I wrote my Beck post. Instead of opening up a new post field in wordpress and typing, formatting, uploading, googling, and linking as I wrote, I just… wrote. Did I like the experience? Eventually. Did it work? Yes.
With Ommwriter, what you see and hear is what you get. Everything is available in the space: the text box, sound control, and save button. It’s supposed to be an immersive experience, so immersive that, when you open a file, there’s a vivid and gentle reminder to use headphones to get the full experience. (I didn’t, because my house was empty and quiet.) The music is like what you get with The Buddha Machine: tonal, steady, and low. I’ve never studied Zen Buddhism, so I have no idea if this adjective actually applies, but I could imagine some person saying, “How zen,” and getting started with Ommwriter. You open it; the music starts; and all there is to do is write.
Because I think of myself as someone not easily distracted, I was surprised by the ants-in-the-pants feeling I had as I started composing. Antsy really is the word: I squirmed where I sat, my eyes darted many times to the bottom of the screen for my icon bar (Firefox, where are you???), and I sighed theatrically. I had to make an active decision to keep going, keep writing, when really I would have welcomed a distraction, of e-mail, of a person, of news. Ommwriter offers a few opportunities for a shift in attention — you can change the background, text size, and sound of music, for example, with those little buttons — but those are not, it turns out, the distractions I wanted. I wanted social ones, and the Internet, outside of the writing space, offers those.
It took me perhaps 10 or 15 minutes of sticking with it, of resisting impulses to override Ommwriter and switch out to the comfort of my desktop, before I really got into it. And I really did. I fell deep into the world of what I was writing, and that world was a kind of slow and steady place. The sonorous sound and the snow-covered field created a place without time, and therefore a place without haste.
Ommwriter seems well-suited, therefore, for creative work. Although I would relish the same peaceful state of mind while writing comments on student work, for example, I wonder if that peace would be counter-productive: can a person write in Ommwriter, and remain efficient?
Other reviewers (like this one, and this) liked Ommwriter, but complained a little that you can only save your documents in the application’s format or in plain text. Hmm. That bothered me not at all. To convert from text to Word, or copy and paste into wordpress, takes about 20 seconds and is easily done, especially because Ommwriter documents lack formatting. They are only words.
And that, in the end, is the cool (and useful) feature of Ommwriter: it is about the words, and only them. The links, italics, bullets, and frequent breaks are all about something else, which I think may be a person’s resistance to sitting still with her ideas for a long enough time.